STATEMENT BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
DURING THE FIFTH SITTING OF THE SECOND SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Tuesday, 25th February, 2020
Cyber Crime Act: A Well Ventilated Legislative Process
Mister Speaker, in still speaking about the Cyber Crime (Amendment) Act, 2019, let me say that the Cyber Crime and Computer Misuse legislation, which was recently, assented to by His Excellency the Governor, for which we thank him, is important in deterring nefarious Online activities.
This piece of legislation is important to deter nefarious online behaviour, one of the critical reasons for piloting the amendment to the legislation.
Mister Speaker, in some quarters there were concerns with assenting to the Cyber Crime (Amendment) Act, 2019.
Mister Speaker, permit me to outline the legislative process of this amended Act.
- It commenced before Cabinet, after which the Governor requested, and it be moved he would take legal advice on the matter from UK personnel so that it can go to the National Security Council.
- The Bill was subsequently approved by National Security Council, after which it came back to Cabinet for approval.
- This was followed by the first reading, and a period for public consultation and views.
- There was a second reading and debate in the House, after which the Bill was placed before a Select Committee of the House.
- It was dissected clause-by-clause by the Select Committee comprising of three Members of Government, two Members of the Opposition and the Attorney General.
- After this extensive review and analysis, it received its third reading and clause-by-clause analysis and amendments at the Committee stage.
- Before the Bill was passed, Members had the benefit of a report provided by the Select Committee.
Mister Speaker, from my experience, the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime (Amendment) Act, 2019 is perhaps the most scrutinised piece of legislation that has passed through the House of Assembly. Importantly, at all the stages listed above, it benefitted from the expertise of the Honourable Attorney General.
Mister Speaker, I have always staunchly advocated for freedom of information and freedom of expression. The Virgin Islands Constitution Order, 2007, guarantees the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to seek, receive, distribute or disseminate information, opinions and ideas.
However it is important that whilst protecting against unlawful communication, there is also the need to always wear a balancing hat with the right to the freedom of expression.
Mister Speaker, no doubt, the social media and online media undoubtedly provide an ideal platform for discussions, dissemination, reception of information and opinions. They are indeed necessary platforms to promote and enhance democracy.
However, as Legislators charged with the responsibility of enacting laws, for the protection of residents and for maintaining law and order it cannot escape us that many users with the luxury and protection of anonymity, use the law for unlawful purposes.
The Virgin Islands Constitution Order, 2007, section 23 by which freedom of expression is guaranteed, prescribes the limits to this exercise of freedom of expression. Among which includes for the protection of the reputation of others.
Thus, while I respect the concerns expressed, it is clear that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute and must be exercised without violating or infringing certain other protected rights and interests, such as the right to protection of reputation and national security.
I am satisfied that the section of which complaint is made does not prohibit or restricts freedom of expression in the sense envisioned by the founders of our Constitution.
Further, it does not censor or threaten the legitimate right of freedom of expression by internet users and media houses.
The Cyber Crime Legislation is intended to provide protection against unlawful communication publicised for the sole purpose of damaging the reputation of citizens and residents and for which the Constitution specifically restricts.
Mister Speaker, when all 13 Members of this Honourable House of Assembly came here and agonised over this Act, we never one day indicated or said that we are trumping the media’s freedom of expression.
Instead, by supporting the Bill, we all agreed that this Act, among other things, was necessary to deter nefarious online behaviours such as cyberbullying.
We all agreed that this Act was necessary to prevent identity theft and fraud.
We all agreed that this Act was necessary to protect children and vulnerable people.
Never did we as Honourable Members speak of this legislation as a tool to threaten the principle and guarantee of free expression and press freedom.
In amending this Act, never did we say or even conceive that the people of Virgin Islands did not have a fundamental right to debate the public figures and policies that affect their lives.
Your Government appreciates the role of the media. The media is an integral part of maintaining democracy and accountability and this Government will never do anything to silence the media. I repeat, this Government will never do anything to silence the media. But the media must also be responsible and accountable for their actions as well.
Mister Speaker, I thank you.